The Newspaper Article That Started It All

A lot of writers are asked, “Where did your idea come from for your latest book?” It is a question meant to compliment, an invitation to tell more. I was lucky enough to be asked that very question at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference last September. Actually, I love both the question (many writers find it annoying for some reason) and the story that is my answer.

I can remember the day precisely–at least as precisely as a post-menopausal brain can conjure up. I was in the midst of reading another book on writing. I have a bookcase full of these self-help tomes and think of them as some of my best friends. Books like The Freelance Writer’s Bible, Write is a Verb, Painless Grammar, and The 101 Habits of highly successful Novelists have adorned my shelves since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Great stuff.

Anyway, on my Eureka! day, I was in the midst of reading Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. It is a fun book full of writing exercises and checklists, things right up my organization-obsessed brain. I decided to begin searching my local newspaper, the now defunct Rocky Mountain News for mystery ideas. I clipped several small articles that tipped my imagination into gear. One had an airplane crash, another had some sort of corporate intrigue … you get the point.

I read only the short articles because the long ones tended to be “too complete.” By that I mean they answered all the questions that could take me to imagination land, and left me without curiousity. I was looking for the germ of an idea, not a complete story. Now, many successful authors can take long articles and find the one paragraph that sparks their interest. I am too lazy for that. The News At A Glance kind of round-ups are where I dive in.

Newspaper clipping that started it all.

Keeping an eye out for a good story idea.

I was looking for ways to add on to complete articles with “suppose” backgrounds for people in the article, and “what if they…” kind of questions. Then I saw it. The two-inch piece buried at the bottom of World News at a glance. The headline alone was intriguing, “Prison For A Priest.” Doesn’t that just make you want to read on? So I did.

And with a couple of questions I had a story of my own. How cool is that? The article talked about a priest in Mexico who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for killing his 8-year-old son, a son he didn’t want his superiors to find out about. Catholic priests aren’t allowed to marry women. I believe they are supposed to be married to God. Immediately the thought, “A Wolf in Priest’s Clothing” came to mind.

What If …

The what if question is probably a fiction writer’s very best friend. It allows you to think beyond the moment and opens your brain to creating all sorts of scenarios. Some of my what if questions were:

  • What if the priest weren’t caught killing his son?
  • What if the priest couldn’t help himself–he had to seduce women (and even men)?
  • What if he got involved with the wrong sort of people?

I played the what if game for a few minutes and then added in some Suppose background “information” — Suppose a priest and romance writer is murdered, and during the investigation it’s discovered that he is a sexual predator of some kind.  What would happen next?

Well, what happened next was a couple of years of writing, rewriting and submitting.  My first submission was because I met an editor at a workshop who was intrigued with the 8-page synopsis I’d put together–we were in a critique session–and she asked to have the first three chapters.  No problem.  I had those done.  When I sent off that bunch of papers, I checked on the publisher’s website and saw that they took an average of 6 to 8 weeks to respond.  This was good, because I’d only written about five to ten chapters.

One week later I received a request for a full read, i.e. the complete book. Oops!  I quickly wrote back that I had a “little polishing” to do and bought a couple of months with which to do it.

I think it was around this time that I learned to type fast–really fast!

Unfortunately, Faith on the Rocks was too controversial for this publisher.  I took the time then to rewrite sections and truly polish the work more.  I submitted to Five Star the following fall.  It was rejected again, but a great good editor, Deni Dietz, was kind enough to give me the encouragement to try again.  She also edited the first 30 pages of my book in order for me to learn some more polishing skills.  I can never thank her enough for that.

I submitted once more the following year, and the rest … I trust  you to fill in the answer.  Be creative now, and have fun.

That’s my first book publishing story. What will yours be?